Since the Russian invasion in Ukraine, video game images Weapon 3 fuel disinformation about the conflict despite themselves. So much so that television channels broadcast these misleading videos.
Soldiers clash in burning cities, warplanes are shot down by missiles, drones pulverize tanks: these images seem larger than life, but are actually taken from war video games like “Arma 3” that feed the flood of disinformation.
Clips from this game, which are often appended with “Live” or “Breaking news” banners to make them look more authentic, have frequently been used in fake videos purporting to depict the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Pictures that may seem real
The ease with which they deceive the public, and sometimes even television channels, worries researchers. It’s “a reminder of how easy it is to fool people,” Claire Wardle, co-director of Brown University’s Information Futures Lab, told AFP.
“With video game visuals improving, CGI can, at first glance, look real,” she explains.
“People need to know how to verify the veracity of these images, in particular how to examine the metadata, so that these errors are avoided, especially by the media”, adds Claire Wardle
Weapon 3, from the Czech studio Bohemia Interactive, allows you to generate various battle scenarios using planes, tanks and various weapons. Many players then share videos of their adventures online, which are sometimes diverted.
Under images ofWeapon 3 titled “The counter-offensive of Ukraine!”, a misled Internet user for example commented: “We must ask Ukraine, after this war, to train NATO forces.”
Methods to identify fake videos
“Although it is flattering thatWeapon 3 simulates modern conflicts so realistically, we are unhappy that it can be confused with images of real combat and used as war propaganda”, reacted in a press release a representative of the studio. He even indicates methods to identify fake videos from his video game.
“We try to combat this content by reporting it to the platforms, but it is not at all effective. For every unpublished video, ten more are uploaded every day.”
In recent years, images ofWeapon 3 have also been used to falsely illustrate the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine, fake news regularly denounced by the digital verification media. AFP has tracked down several, including one in November claiming to show Russian tanks being hit by Javelin missiles and viewed tens of thousands of times.
According to Bohemia Interactive, these hijackings experienced a resurgence in popularity with the invasion of Ukraine, sometimes dubbed the “first TikTok war” because of the many images that illustrate it on social networks.
Error broadcasts on television
The media have also been fooled: the Romanian channel Romania TV presented in November an old video ofWeapon 3 as showing fighting in Ukraine, and a former defense minister as well as an ex-intelligence chief both commented on the images as if they were genuine.
Already in February, another Romanian channel, Antena 3, mistakenly broadcast an old video ofWeapon 3 and invited the Ministry of Defense spokesman to analyze it. This will be limited to general remarks on the conflict.
On social media, the reasons for sharing these fake clips vary.
“I suspect the people posting this content are just ‘trolls’ wanting to see how many people they can trick,” Nick Waters of the digital forensics site Bellingcat told AFP.
Easier to verify than “deepfakes”
Those who then share these publications are, according to him, “naive people” trying to obtain visibility or subscribers on the internet.
Given the unsophisticated nature of the disinformation based on extracts fromWeapon 3it is unlikely to come from state actors, say the researchers.
For them, these clips are easier to verify than “deepfakes” (or “hyperfakes”), which consist of using artificial intelligence to create confusingly realistic images, which are increasingly used in the criminal world.
“If you know what to expect, these videos (ofWeapon 3) are actually not that hard to identify as false,” Waters adds. Unfortunately, he regrets, “a lot of people don’t have the skills” to spot misinformation.